Optimal ammo usage for all difficulty modes, both SP and MP; optimal order of weapon damage upgrades; ammo saving practices.
If you want to know what's optimal sequence of weapon upgrade, which ammo to craft from your gunpowder and cases, what are the ways to conserve ammo, and when you should and should not use your guns/ammo to kill things - then this guide may help.
This is based on my expriences after over 100 hours of playing the game in "Normal" mode (and a bit in Hardcore mode) in coop game (so tougher hunters), but doing it solo (noone to help me in fights).
Which Weapons to Upgrade First
Shotgun and rifle, damage upgrades only, at nearly same pace, both to at least level 3 damage before upgrading any other weapon.
Shotgun is the best weapon against predators, able to 1-shot wolves most of the time even without upgrades. Upgrading it for damage - allows to instantly kill any wolf reliably, but more importantly, it also allows to save ammo against cougars, to more often avoid taking damage from them, and lessen chances you'd get infected by their bites (i.e. it also saves medicinal tonics, in the long run - means more health kits). Obviously, upgraded shotgun also does that much better against hunters whenever it's close-range encounter, too.
Hunting cougars is the primary source of Sinew, which is needed in large amounts for many advanced base features, upgrades, body armor, etc. While it is possible to lure a cougar to the bottom of a vertical wall and then kill it with bow and arrows from above - arrows still cost wood, feathers and nails to make. And all of those three resources are useful for base building and other items. Besides, shotgun ammo is pretty common in loot, especially after one starts to fight with hunters, and has no other usage than being shot at something. Predators, especially cougars, are the best application of shotgun ammo. Possibly bears occasionally, too, if one is short on biofuel - bears tend to drop more fat.
Rifle is even more important than shotgun, though. It is your best friend in the game once hunters are around. Hunters without a helmet drop in a single rifle headshot, even without damage upgrades. Note, you may want to set up a button on your (hopefully "gaming") mouse to cycle through different sensitivity settings: it is times easier to make rifle "zoomed" headshots if your mouse sensitivity is really low - much lower than comfortable during general play.
Rifle is also very helpful when hunting cougars and bears: its precision and long range allows to reliably hit standing-still cougar / bear from great distance. Without upgrades, 2nd rifle hit may be needed (depends on level / health of the target) to make sure you'll kill the target with a single shotgun shell after it gets close to you. But with couple upgrades for damage, single rifle hit plus single shotgun shell point-blank range - will be enough for any animal.
Why not to upgrade Magnum 1st? Because its ammo is most rare in loot - to the point being times more rare than any other ammo; also, its ammo is more expensive to craft than rifle ammo; and Magnum does not have as much zoom as rifle, so harder to make headshots with.
Why not to upgarde M9? 9mm is most common in loot, but the pistol uses ammo times faster than rifle, and it lacks precision at any significant range. Not much zoom, too. Its rate of fire allows M9 to be used as a "lesser shotgun" close range, though, so after upgrading rifle and shotgun to comfortable damage level, M9 should be 3rd weapon to upgrade - by which time solid reserve of 9mm ammo should ideally be made, something like 200 rounds or more. Using all that ammo with non-upgraded M9 pistol is suboptimal, so don't, unless you must.
The Best Ammo to Make Out of All the Gunpowder and Casings
Definitely rifle ammo. But also, shotgun ammo - whenever your shotgun has less than 3 rounds loaded into it and you got no spare shotgun ammo anywhere, make one or two shells to have 3 loaded ASAP. But ideally, one should craft only rifle ammo at all times, except early-game.
Here's why. Matherials spent to make rifle ammo will have the highest return in terms of loot you get out of targets - be it a hunter you dropped with a single bullet to his head, or cougar wounded enough to be finished with just a single shotgun shell. Shotgun shells are a bit more expensive to make, and are usually in less demand by the player, being used only against animals (ideally never against hunters). And the best loot, obviously, comes from hunters.
To Shoot or Not to Shoot? That is the Question!
Fight and kill targets only when you get very important things to gain from doing so:
- Kill animals either to save your life if you can't flee from them; or when you're very hungry, or when you desperately need some Sinew / fat / liver (for antidote);
- Hunters, ideally you should only fight in order to raid their base, unless you have over 50 rifle rounds avavilable (in which case - sure, shoot ones attacking your base, too). But if your rifle ammo is below 50 total, then do not fight them when they attack your base - instead, wait inside or far enough from your base to not attract attackers' attention to yourself, let them leave, then fix the damage they did to your base, if needed. Building a base in ways which minimize damage taken from hunters' attacks - obviously helps. Other guides may help you do it.
In other words, avoid fights if you at all can!
Main reason - ammo is pretty scarce in this game. This is why you should only spend your ammo when it's really much to gain from doing so. Much like it'd be in real life!
Animals are always present on the map and after a while, you'll know very well where to find cougars any time. So, it's best not to get low on your rifle / shotgun ammo over-hunting them, if you're not gaining something truly important from it. Better save few clips of ammo in case you'll ever get into any difficult situation.
As for hunters, you get same "body" loot and spend same ammo - on average, - when you kill a hunter who's attacking your base, or a hunter defending his own. The difference is, you get extra loot in hunter's base after you kill its defenders, while you get no extra if you kill ones who attack your base. So, ideally all the rifle ammo should be spent to kill hunters near their own bases, and 1st shots vs tough animals.
By the way, no need to spend any ammo to break into any hunter base. Instead, use your pickaxe. Yep, not axe; it takes ~380 seconds to break a door's 500 hit points hitting it with an axe, but only ~280 seconds hitting it with a pickaxe. And one normally wants to carry a pickaxe at all times to gather the ores, anyway.
Ways to Save Ammo
- Whenever you fight a group of hunters, consider using your axe to kill the last one, if your health is high enough at this point of the fight - it's easier than you may think;
- Whenever you happen to accumulate 20 or more arrows just from loots, consider taking bow and arrow for some "from high cliff / foundation" cougar hunt, and/or use arrows as opening shots vs wildlife instead of your rifle (especially with well upgraded for damage shotgun, which would compensate for lower-than-rifle damage of the 1st shot);
- Whenever using your rifle against hunters, always use some kind of cover and move in ways which let only one hunter to see you (and shoot at you). This will allow you much longer "can see the target" time as far as your own health goes, therefore allowing more careful aiming, therefore increasing percentage of landed headshots - saving you precious rifle ammo. High rocks and cliffs with steep walls are the best;
- Whenever trying to kill a hunter who wears a helmet: do NOT go for headshots, do body shots instead, more efficient against those;
- Whenever using a shotgun: obviously always try to use it point-blank range only, and to kill the target in a single shot;
- Whenever using a rifle + shotgun without enough damage upgrades vs 200+ health cougar or bear: there is a neat trick of making the 1st shot from very far, which will trigger the animal to run in your direction, but to stop somewhat short of you and stand still again, at which point you can do 2nd rifle shot once again vs stationary (but already wounded) target, thus allowing you to reliably finish it with a single shotgun shell up close. The 1st shot for this method - must be taken from distance which is about the range of animals disappearing without using zoom (but with rifle's zoom, you'll have plenty of room extra);
- Whenever trying to shoot a moving target at any distance (which normally you should avoid doing, if at all possible) - lead the target a bit; the more distance it is, the more "before" it you should aim. Bullets fly rather slow in this game - definitely subsonic speed even from the rifle;
- Catch chickens and occasionally rabbits (cornering them into rocks, for example) without spending any arrows, and definitely don't waste any bullets for those;
- Dive for kelp in ponds and lakes - it's free and regularly replenishing source of nutrition, with which you'll have less need to hunt for food, means less ammo / arrows spent for it;
- Fish regularly, unless you're one of players who can't stand the process. However, even if you are, may be you'll change your mind about it if you'd try to fish evening-time: because during evenings, fishing happens times faster than during other times. I don't know how or why, but i repeatedly get several fish caught very quickly if i fish shortly before sunset. Fish is an extra source of food - means less need to hunt with guns, which saves ammo. More health kits made from that extra fish oil - also means more aiming time in combat, which decreases amount of misses, thus saving you another bit of ammo.
Optimal Weapon Upgrade Pace (vs Solar Power)
The big question here - is this: should one prioritize weapon upgrades over solar power, or vice versa?
This is because both weapon upgrading and solar panels require to spend large amounts of copper and mass. Every time you build a solar panel - you make your next weapon upgrade to happen significantly later than otherwise possible; and every time you upgrade a weapon - you make your next solar panel to be made much later.
There is no universal answer here, unlike much of the above. Instead, the answer will depend on two things: how often you miss when you shoot, and how much of your food comes from killing predators (wolves, bears, cougars). Stay with me here, i'll explain! :)
See, if you miss alot, then it's so much more important to upgrade your guns for you to progress in the game faster than otherwise possible. Without upgraded guns, ammo shortages will be much more a problem, because you'd need more shots to kill same things (having less damage per each shot than when using upgraded weapons). So, if you miss lots of your shots, then upgrading guns 1st (relying on generators' power - not using solar panels) to at least level 2 damage upgrades is most likely the way to go. But if you hit your targets with like 80% or more of your shots, then it's much more likely it'd be best to focus on getting some couple dozens solar panels before doing any more than level 1 damage upgrades for your guns - with solar power it's so much easier to get high amounts of mass steadily through a mass converter.
Now about food. Steaks and livers from predators are great food, especially cooked, but there is one more thing which you'll have aplenty if you regularly hunt large game: fat. That fat, so far, has only one major use i know of: to be turned into biofuel at 2nd tab of your base' fireplace. This is why anyone who gets much of nutrition in the game from killing predators - will also have regular and significant supply of biofuel. Which results in massively lesser need to be in any hurry with solar power, which in turn means it is so much more reasonable to do some level 3 weapon upgrades 1st, solar power 2nd.
However, as i recommended in previous section, it's reasonable to minimize big-game hunt in the game, relying mostly or entirely on berries, fruit, fish and kelp for one's nutrition needs. Those are "free" in terms of amount of weapon fire / arrows you need to get them. So, in this case, only little biofuel collected directly from loot crates and such will be available, and some of it will be needed to craft useful things like health kits, too. So in this case, solar power may take definite priority over weapon upgrading.
The bottom line of this all? Something like this: if you're having more biofuel than you know what to do with, and especially if you're missing lots of your shots when firing your rifle and regularly need 2nd shotgun shot to finish a target - then it will be best to upgrade your weapons before setting up any much solar power in your base. Otherwise, don't hurry up with those weapon upgrades, try and see if setting good dozen or two solar panels instead would serve you better.